Monthly Archives: March 2014

This is something I need.

I need you to help me…

Monday I told a local friend that I needed something.  An idea: a different way to invest in Syrian refugees, now the first project had ended.  She is from here, a make-it-happen activator who already has two jobs; I am new, a student increasingly conscious of how much I still need to learn.

We wanted something that would involve the community in service, make space for developing relationships, and meet a practical need.  BUT something we had time to do.

She said she’d think about it, and get back to me.

Still, after nearly three months, I miss my family and friends and community from the States– and pizza; I really miss buffalo chicken, New York style slices– and all the familiarity that came with them.  I had people to talk through teaching ideas with me.  I had a team of trusted coworkers and friends, to help plan community events: worship training, community breakfasts, an art show… Together our ideas and application were better than they ever could have been alone.  I enjoy making music, but when I play here alone, I miss the sounds of our incredible drummer, or the classical-turned-loose pianist or the strum just the way Shawna does it.

A quiet place.  A mug of coffee and an almond croissant.  A hug, listening ears, a soul connection over tea or Chinese food or… I miss how easy it was to get those things.

Learning friends, family, and community in a new place may be harder than learning a foreign language– but even more necessary for life to be lived (instead of survived).  My favorite parts of the past three months have been times of connection.  And I see in people I have met a deep craving for connection, whether they are from the Arab world, the US, or elsewhere.

My favorite moments of the past months have been moments of connection.  Hummus and pita with Arab friends.  Ice cream and oreos with a fellow stranger to this country, who makes her home here.  Working as an incredible team, both local and non-local, for our first outreach for refugees.  Laughter with local ladies as I attempt to tell a story.  And moments of connection– looking up at the mountains, praying with a friend, hearing lyrics from a good song– with the Creator.

My friend came back the next day holding a pile of papers.  The top page read, “101 Project Ideas.”  In between jobs, my friend had researched ideas, and come up with one that she thought would work for neighborhood and the Syrian refugees.

She gave me a great idea to bring back to the team.  And she gave me yet another connection here; yet another powerful note in the unfinished song that is this season.  I think I’ll call the song…

No, I’ll save naming this song for another, second story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daring Greatly

IMG_0024Daring Greatly.” That part sounded good.  A trusted friend was recommending a book. Then he said its subtitle: “How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”

I groaned.  All it took was the cover of the book to make me feel uncomfortable and say, “Why would anyone want to read that?”  Which was, I was willing to admit, clear evidence that I probably SHOULD read the book.

Started last weekend.  Dr. Brene Brown breaks down the mentality of “scarcity” that pervades all around– the message that we never have or are enough. People, she writes, tend to respond to the fear that they aren’t [doing, performing, succeeding, looking attractive, acting courageously, being smart, experiencing love from one another…] ENOUGH in three ways:

1) Shame

2) Comparison

3) Disengagement

Ouch.  This week, a couple from the US came to lead us in some times of teaching and seeking God.  A theme that kept coming up in my soul, during these sessions, was my impatience.  I want to accomplish much for English classes and refugee projects; learn Arabic; develop close, fun friendships with coworkers; have quality relationships with local ladies; and have amazing times with God. NOW.

When I don’t feel like I am _____ enough, I tend toward 1, 2, or 3.  Or maybe a couple of those at once.

They were leading similar talks in a different city, and I joined them, lending some music to the sessions.  (Sidebar: my experience in a much larger city in this region can be summed up in: hipster coffee shops, green grass, strange “zoo,” Chili’s, try-not-to-wince-because-we’re-this-close traffic… very different, but quite fun.)  I brought my guitar.  I listened to the talks again– many of them underlining the need for vulnerability among teams, colleagues, and families.  And I kept reading pieces of Daring Greatly.

Acupuncture via concepts: scary, sharp-looking points, poking into the soft places of the soul.  But surprisingly, relieving some of the tension that has been building, and bringing release (at least, I’ve been told that acupuncture does).

I found myself tripping into 1, 2, or 3 that week… stumbling, catching it… and choosing differently.  Because I know something that shame, comparison, and disengagement can’t contain.  And I am increasingly aware that 1, 2, and 3 do not belong as my responses,  if I really believe this something.

After all the talks, we gathered at a large body of water, at the lowest place on earth.  We went in, held up by the salt.  Before entering, we smeared mud on every exposed portion of skin.  People travel from around the world to experience a smelly, muddy, gritty cleansing ritual… We floated together, surprisingly buoyant, laughing at the mud on each others’ faces and limbs.  Mud that cleanses.  Salt that stings, but holds us up.  A low place that gives a fresh perspective.

Dare greatly, and let this vulnerability drench your soul with the truth: that you are held by Someone who is enough

Listen (beyond the words)

“Forgive me– I don’t speak Arabic well yet.  I am new here.  I have been here about two months.”

Often I will introduce myself in the local language, prompting a flow of Arabic words that surpasses my comprehension.  So I make this little speech, and then say what I can.  And listen.

This week, 20 Syrian refugees came together at the community center.  Local Arab women, from our center’s fitness program, had talked about what it means to love others and what they could do to help. They donated clothes.  Then they organized and folded donations from others, and packed 41 bags to share with refugee families.  We invited these 20 women to come for a health seminar and– of course–  coffee, tea, and sesame cookies.

When I welcomed each lady in Arabic, and their response flowed past my comprehension, I made the speech.  “Forgive me, I don’t speak Arabic well yet…”  I added something extra: “But in America, I studied a little Arabic with a friend from Syria.”

Fast connections.  Warm smiles.  I even understood their response: one confirmed that my Syrian accent was still clear, and another insisted that I was “part American and part Syrian.”

Someone noticed the half-dozen young children, present with their mothers.  In record time, she assembled bags of kid-friendly snacks and chocolate milk, and deposited them into six delighted little pairs of hands.

With our own hands wrapped around coffee mugs, the fitness program ladies and Syrian women got to know each other.  One older refugee had been a mathematics professor at a university for 33 years.  “I got tired,” she told me, adding that she now lived with her youngest daughter.  Others named the cities from which they had come.  I recognized these cities from the news; they were sites of violent sieges and extreme civilian suffering.

Another woman told me her name, and I tried the question:  “What is your story?”  She shrugged, saw that I wanted to listen, and began.  I caught some fragments: war, house, destroyed, child… leg (these last two were repeated multiple times).  She did not need me to understand every word.  Even if I had, I think I would not be able to understand what she had been through.  So I listened.

I noticed three children, between three and five years old, contentedly munching from their snack bags.  They sat together.  Their feet dangled off of their chairs.  I attempted to talk to them, and they smiled, but were unsure of how to respond to the woman with long, yellow hair and words that tumbled.  The smallest got an idea, though.  Wordlessly– cheerfully– he offered me a chip.

I accepted.

Smells & Save the Children

So today’s entry is coming from the second story, literally, of the house where I live.  Because the basement–where I call home— is flooded.

The rancid odor encroached on this afternoon’s study session; I smelled before I saw.  My language teacher phrased the situation quite nicely: “… you have a problem with your house.”  What to do? CALL FOR HELP.  While not a common thing, my housemates tell me, it isn’t the first time.  So they, too, called for help.

We hope the plumber comes soon.

And in the meantime I sit on their porch, looking back the interruptions of the past several days.  Unusual rain interrupting this city’s rhythms earlier in the week.  Mosquitoes interrupting sleep for a few of my nights.  A national celebration interrupting normally scheduled classes at the university (a celebration which I learned about two hours before my class was supposed to begin).  A recent video released by Save the Children UK, illuminating in wrenching ways how a child’s life can be quickly interrupted, uprooted, and confused by war.

Videos like that cause movement, movement in my soul.  Shaking, my soul sits before God and asks how I can trust Him, feel safe, or preach a gospel of life and salvation.  These devastating interruptions don’t just come to “bad people,” or to “others.”  They come.  They leave life irreversibly altered.  They surprise me.

Psalm 46:

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth…He says, “Be still and know that I am God….” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

My soul is also moved to action– but while some are good steps I do want to make, none is easily going to change all things.  I know it won’t be through my own plans that the trembling ceases in me, or the struggle ceases for others.

So all I know is, beyond shaking, and before and after doing, my strongest movement is toward stillness.  And from a place of stillness, I can call for help.  “Great are You, O God my God; You won’t stay silent against the violence…”  (another song from Tim Coons— The Lord’s Prayer). 

Will you call for help, too?

My housemates’ young sons seize the opportunity, afforded to them by my interruption, and keep me company on the porch.  One informs me of his plan to “earn seventy million dollars” teaching Arabic, and then to “buy a jet pack.”  His six-year-old brother asks me why ants like sugar, while munching cookies and insisting that he has no personal appreciation for the stuff.  And I wait for the plumber more patiently.

And to those for whom the wait is not so gentle, those whose interruption is life-altering, know, your story is not done.  There is hope.

There is a second story.